If you dream about working on political campaigns, running for office, or teaching college courses, an online political science master's degree can help you get there.
Political science graduates can excel in many industries. As public policy increases in complexity, the demand for experts who can understand and analyze the laws and language should similarly grow. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data projects 6% job growth between 2019 and 2029 — 50% faster than the rate for all occupations.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted political science professions, like many others, but it also inspired a renewed focus on public policy, especially health policy. Many political scientists now work remotely as they help governments and organizations create and adhere to guidelines that protect the health and safety of employees and consumers.
Political science is most popular social science concentration, and it leads to careers in management, business, and law. Most political science roles require at least a master's degree.
To help prospective political scientists choose their ideal program, we ranked the best online master's in political science programs and outlined what students can expect from the profession.
|#1||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||Blacksburg, VA|
|#2||University of Illinois at Springfield||Springfield, IL|
|#3||The University of West Florida||Pensacola, FL|
|#4||Sam Houston State University||Huntsville, TX|
|#5||University of Nebraska at Omaha||Omaha, NE|
The Best Online Master's in Political Science Programs
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
|Blacksburg, VA Apply Now||
About this school
Based in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech remains one of the state’s flagship universities. Though the school focuses primarily on research and technology, Virginia Tech also offers many of its undergraduate and graduate programs online through its virtual campus. The school’s online political science master’s degree caters to distance learners, enrolling 67–70 online students and 10–15 on-campus students each year. Offering online courses since 1995, Virginia Tech allows students to complete all coursework in the political science program asynchronously.
Students can complete the 30-credit program in four semesters by taking three courses each term. Foundational courses include research methods and contemporary political theory. Each student must also complete and defend a thesis. Most online students opt for a part-time course of study, taking one course per semester and earning their degrees in eight semesters. The political science program offers flexibility in elective course options. These courses can include global conflicts, transnational migration, and the politics of developing areas. Students who still need to complete an undergraduate degree can pursue an accelerated bachelor’s/master’s program.
Out-of-state online students pay a higher tuition rate than in-state students. Applicants must have earned a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and submit GRE scores. Students can apply for admission to one of four start dates throughout the year.
University of Illinois at Springfield
|Springfield, IL Apply Now||
About this school
The newest member of the University of Illinois system, UIS offers many of its programs online. The school’s online master’s in political science aims for convenience above all, never requiring students to attend on-campus courses in Springfield. That flexibility extends to the program’s coursework. The curriculum caters to students from various academic backgrounds, including students who want to teach, work in politics, or continue on toward an advanced degree. Online students can choose a concentration in public law, comparative politics and international relations, or American national and state politics.
UIS delivers online courses both synchronously and asynchronously through Blackboard. However, since most of UIS’s students also work full time, most of the school’s online programs record professors’ live lectures and allow students to view them at their convenience. The political science program’s 40-credit curriculum includes core studies, such as methods of inquiry and introduction to the graduate study of politics. All students must also complete an internship and a closure exercise, in which students choose between a case study, a comprehensive examination, or a thesis. Each student receives an initial advisor and eventually chooses a permanent academic advisor from the political science department’s tenure-track faculty.
All applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree, proof of background in a related field, and a GPA of at least 3.0. Students who do not meet these requirements can apply for conditional admission. Students who have not completed a statistics course must do so at UIS.
The University of West Florida
|Pensacola, FL Apply Now||
About this school
Based on the Florida Panhandle in Pensacola, UWF’s campus sits on a nature preserve, bordering a bay and two rivers. However, distance learners never need to visit campus to earn their political science master’s online at UWF. Students in the program choose between specializations in political science (generalist) or security and diplomacy. With either path, the 33-semester hour curriculum includes a distinct focus on public policy, international relations, and comparative politics. The curriculum includes six core courses, including seminars in comparative politics, international relations, political theory, and American politics. Students must earn at least a
Once students meet the core course requirement, they choose between a thesis or a comprehensive examination as a concluding experience. Students enrolled in the generalist specialization have free choice in their electives, while students enrolled in the security and diplomacy specialization must complete relevant coursework. UWF delivers all program coursework synchronously.
Students who do not live in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties may apply to the online version of the program. The program does not operate in every state, so prospective students should check UWF’s state authorization page before applying. Applicants must have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and submit GRE or MAT scores in the 50th percentile or higher.
Sam Houston State University
|Huntsville, TX Apply Now||
About this school
Based in Huntsville, Texas, SHSU is one of the oldest universities in the Lone Star State. SHSU also holds membership in the Texas State University System and currently enrolls over 20,000 students, many of whom take courses online. SHSU’s online master’s degree in political science offers strong distance learning courses that cater to both recent college graduates and professionals working in political science. Graduates of the program teach in high schools and community colleges, find work in the nonprofit or public sectors, or continue on to further studies in political science or law.
The program’s curriculum consists of 30 (thesis option) to 36 (non-thesis option) credits, and students never have to visit campus in Huntsville for any reason. Required courses including American politics, comparative politics, and international politics. Students choose elective courses to complete their remaining credits.
The program accepts students for fall, spring, and summer start dates. Out-of-state online graduate students pay a slightly higher tuition rate than in-state residents. All prospective students must have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 and submit GRE scores. Applicants must also include an academic or professional writing sample and two letters of recommendation.
University of Nebraska at Omaha
|Omaha, NE Apply Now||
About this school
Based in Omaha, UNO is the metropolitan branch of the University of Nebraska system. UNO caters to distance learners nationwide, including students earning a master’s in political science online. The 30-credit, interdisciplinary program allows students to take up to 12 credits in other fields, such as communications, social work, and economics. The curriculum consists primarily of seminars, offering content seminars in areas like US foreign policy, international relations, American government, political theory, and political science methodology. Students choose between a capstone project or a thesis as a concluding experience. UNO delivers all program coursework asynchronously.
Students can choose an optional concentration in international affairs or optional certificates in global information operations or intelligence and national security. UNO graduates work in diverse fields, such as law, academia, journalism, education, government, and the nonprofit sector. All students in the program gain access to one-on-one academic advising and online library services.
As a proud member of the University of Nebraska system, students with in-state residency pay a lower tuition rate than out-of-state residents. All applicants must have already earned a bachelor’s degree with at least 15 hours of political science courses (including statistical methods) with a GPA of at least 3.0. Students are not required to submit standardized test scores. The program accepts students for the fall, spring, and summer terms.
End of list, bravo!
Online Master's in Political Science Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
What Is an Online Political Science Master's Degree?
A master's in political science provides training in American and comparative politics, public policy, and social movements. Students acquire advanced research skills while studying the function of the government and how various factors and institutions can impact politics. This diverse training equips learners for careers in politics, community organizations, business, and research.
Typically, students can complete a master's in political science in less than two years, though some go on to doctoral programs, which can add 4-7 years. Political science students and professionals often rely on analytical, critical thinking, and communication skills. Graduates of these programs also hone skills in developing projections, systems and policy analysis, and interpreting and presenting data.
Choosing an Online Political Science Master's Degree Program
Picking the right online master's in political science requires students to think about their individual goals, needs, and interests. Many students start by looking at location and cost, which helps them identify schools they can attend. Students should also consider how an asynchronous online schedule impacts their financial situation, including whether out-of-state online programs offer in-state tuition rates.
Prospective students should also evaluate factors like program length, curriculum, and faculty quality. Learners who have a specific study and career field in mind should identify which programs have courses, concentrations, or internships in that area. Make a list of priorities and try to rank each school by how well it addresses those needs.
What Are the Differences Between a Master of Arts in Political Science, a Master of Science in Political Science, and a Master's in Applied Politics?
A master's in political science typically runs for two years, features between 30-45 credits, and awards an MS or an MA degree. More rarely, some schools offer a master's in applied politics (MAAP), which can offer shorter completion times. Each degree can lead to careers like economist or market research analyst.
An MA degree is the most common type, providing more theory-based training than an MS, which focuses more on quantitative analysis and science-based skills. Meanwhile, MAAP programs tend to emphasize practicality and experience-based training.
Most schools only offer one of these degree types, while also offering specializations and internships to help students diversify their training.
Accreditation for Online Political Science Master's Degree Degrees
When researching schools and programs, pay close attention to accreditation. Regional accreditation indicates that a school has met the educational standards, providing quality assurance for students, financial aid organizations, and employers. National accreditation is for trade schools and should not be used for political science institutions.
In some fields, programs can also receive programmatic accreditation, but political science is not one of them. Consult our accreditation guide for more information about accreditation.
What Can I Expect When Pursuing a Political Science Master's Degree Online?
Every master's in political science has its own approach to the discipline, but students should expect a mixture of research, theory, and analysis. During training, students learn to work with industry tools, use various analytic methods, and apply practical skills effectively.
Common Courses in Political Science Online Programs
Students earning a master's in political science online receive advanced training in political science theory, research, and methodology. An online political science master's degree is interdisciplinary, covering sociology, law, and economics. Required classes vary by school, but the courses listed below are common offerings in many political science programs.
- History of Political Thought: This course typically covers specific periods of political thought, from ancient Greece to medieval Europe. Learners study major political theorists and explore similarities between the past and present. Political scientists and professionals in public policy draw on the comprehensive understanding of political thought and theory this course provides.
- Methodological Tools: This course presents the essential tools that political scientists, survey takers, data analysts, and researchers use in formal and quantitative work. Students explore the mathematics of political science, studying topics like statistics, probability, continuity, and mathematical models like game theory and econometrics.
- Seminar in American Politics: Seminars examine a specific aspect of U.S. politics, such as political institutions, the political party system, political behavior, or economic inequality. Seminars challenge students to think critically about major questions related to the topic at hand and reach logical conclusions.
- Foundations of International Politics: Students develop their conceptual literacy, enabling them to engage with international political issues and topics, including realist and feminist approaches. Degree-seekers cover pertinent issues related to international politics, including political violence, religion, human rights, and international law.
- Theory and Rhetoric: This course provides an in-depth analysis of modern and historical theories throughout Western history. Learners examine connections between rhetoric and democracy, art and power, and theoretical trends in the U.S. and abroad. They also learn how to further the scholarly discipline of politics through academic research and persuasive writing.
Political Science Concentrations
Students pursuing a master's in political science online can often add a concentration to their degree, which can better prepare them for specific careers in political science. This concentration determines some of the required courses or electives required for graduation. Concentration areas vary between schools, so make sure you research these offerings carefully.
This concentration focuses on the study of political behavior and political institutions in the United States. Students investigate the overlap between ordinary citizens and political institutions. Learners also explore research methods commonly used when studying a democratic society, including qualitative methods, survey research, interviewing, and observational data.
Postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, policy analysts, politics reporters
Learners in this concentration focus on conflicts between countries, political economy law, subnational politics, and lobbying. Professionals use empirical and statistical approaches to study politics and many compare foreign policies with those found in the United States. Students typically develop a secondary specialty area based on a geographic location, such as politics in Latin America, East Asia, Europe, or Africa.
Postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, social researchers, political writers, politics reporters, political analysts
International Political Economy
Students pursuing this concentration study economics and international relations. Coursework features an interdisciplinary approach to exploring globalization, trade, finance, political risk, and the balance of power between governing entities. A socially centered division of political science, students in this area of the field analyze significant amounts of economic data and statistics to evaluate current and upcoming policies.
Political analysts, journalists, postsecondary teachers, government officials, political advisors, international business consultants
Learners in this area develop practical skills and a solid academic foundation, preparing to assume leadership positions in the government or for nonprofit organizations. Students focus on topics such as political writing, data analysis, party politics and voting, and legislative organization. Many master's students in this area move on to pursue degrees in business or law.
Campaign managers, political consultants, lobbyists, political analysts, journalists, marketing specialists
Master's students with a concentration in political theory study moral philosophy, legal theory, social science, and history. Learners focus on dominant controversies related to justice, human rights and liberties, and governmental protections for minorities in majoritarian democracies. By examining the relationships between political ideas and political practice, learners prepare for careers in politics and related fields.
Journalists, postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, marketing specialists, legal directors, college and university administrators, management and program analysts
Political Science Professional Organizations
Professional organizations advocate for workers in a specific field or discipline. Membership in these types of organizations can help experienced professionals advance their careers through networking and professional development opportunities. These associations also provide information and resources for current students and recent graduates, such as job boards, professional contacts, and scholarship opportunities.
- American Political Science Association Founded in 1903, APSA serves more than 11,000 members and helps them cultivate a deeper understanding of politics, democracy, and citizenship. Members have access to political science scholarships and a variety of programs and services for individuals, departments, and institutions.
- International Political Science Association Founded in 1949 under UNESCO, IPSA is an international scholarly association devoted to the global advancement of political science. The association strives to create an accessible, worldwide community for political science professionals.
- Association for Political Theory Since 2000, APT has promoted the study of political theory and philosophy in North America. The organization advances scholarly interaction among political theorists, educators, and researchers. APT also hosts an annual conference on political thought.
- Western Political Science Association WPSA is an association of more than 1,250 political scientists that was founded in 1948. The association promotes the study and teaching of politics, while also inspiring research and collaboration among its members. Members can take advantage of WPSA's annual conferences, professional development workshops, and job board.
- National Conference of Black Political Scientists NCOBPS promotes the political aspirations of people of African descent in the United States. Founded in 1969, the organization boasts over 400 active members and hosts an annual meeting. NCOBPS provides an active job board, access to scholarships, and online journal access for members.
Political Science Careers
A master's in political science can lead to many careers, depending on the graduate's interests, specialization, and experience. Learners can expand their options further with interdisciplinary study, certifications, or a more advanced degree.
Below are a few professional opportunities available to political science graduates. Note that some careers require additional training, credentials, or experience.
|Median Salary: $122,960||Projected Job Growth: 4%|
Lawyers help people and organizations manage legal issues and concerns. They analyze laws and handle legal paperwork to ensure nothing gets overlooked or misinterpreted. The best lawyers often have a combination of analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills.
Lawyers need a bachelor's degree and a law degree (juris doctorate), which qualifies them to take the licensing exam. Political science graduates make strong candidates for law school, and their training can help them in pursuit of government positions. After completing a master's in political science, graduates need to take the LSAT to earn admission to law school.
|Median Salary: $122,220||Projected Job Growth: 6%|
Political scientists analyze political institutions, policies, and trends. They use their research and findings to develop theories and forecast trends, suggesting ways for governments and organizations to improve. Most political scientists are analytical and critical thinkers, and they have strong communication skills.
For employment, political scientists usually need a master's degree in a related field, though some positions require a doctorate. Some entry-level positions may hire bachelor's degree graduates. Employers often prefer candidates with experience, so internships are a common route to careers.
|Median Salary: $85,930||Projected Job Growth: 9%|
Postsecondary teachers educate students in various subjects at colleges and universities. They also conduct their own original research and contribute to scholarship in their fields. The best postsecondary teachers have excellent communication skills, particularly oral and academic writing abilities.
For employment, teachers usually need a Ph.D. in a teachable subject, though some community colleges hire master's graduates. At this level, teachers do not need a teaching license, but they may need certification or licensure in their field of expertise. Some employers may require candidates to have professional experience.
Urban and Regional Planners
|Median Salary: $74,350||Projected Job Growth: 11%|
Urban and regional planners help communities and builders develop and build on available land. They oversee revitalization projects, research information about properties, and manage government policies regarding developments. Urban planners use a mix of communication, analytical, and decision-making skills in their jobs.
These professionals typically need a master's degree for employment, usually from an accredited planning program. However, many planners come from other disciplines, such as political science. Some states and employers prefer candidates with licensure or certification, like the credential from the American Institute of Certified Planners.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Political Science?
Graduates with a master's in political science can pursue careers in many sectors, including business and finance, management, and government. They can also pursue a doctoral degree, which may lead to a research or postsecondary teaching position.
How Long Is a Master's Degree in Political Science?
A master's in political science typically runs for two years, though accelerated online options or certain degree types may reduce the overall time spent in class.
What Is the Highest Paying Job in Political Science?
The highest paying job exclusive to political science is political scientist. According to the BLS employment data, these professionals earn a median annual salary of $122,220. However, political science graduates can also pursue high-paying careers like lawyer or chief executive.
Header Image Credit: ANRProduction | Getty Images